Commercialization: December 2015 Archives

Washington's 'Star Wars', Politico

"A Washington brawl has broken out over the future of the U.S. military's ability to reach orbit, with the powerhouse combo of Boeing and Lockheed Martin jostling with the scrappy yet well-funded upstart of entrepreneur Elon Musk's SpaceX for multibillion-dollar contracts for launching satellites. The competition is upending the norms of the defense contractor heavyweights, who are not used to dealing with relatively fresh rivals, and has released a flood of lobbying cash. SpaceX has spent more than $1.3 million on lobbying this year and while the Boeing-Lockheed joint effort, called United Launch Alliance, spent more than $900,000 both on pace to easily set new records for the companies once the final quarter of 2015 is reported."

ULA Orders RD-180 Engines to Serve Civil, Commercial Contracts, ULA

"ULA has ordered additional Atlas engines to serve our existing and potential civil and commercial launch customers until a new American-made engine can be developed and certified. While ULA strongly believes now is the right time to move to an American engine solution for the future, it is also critical to ensure a smooth transition to that engine and to preserve healthy competition in the launch industry."

Rocket security for the Rocket City - thanks to Senator Shelby, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, Huntsville Times

"We thank Senator Shelby for his leadership in the Senate, for securing our nation's defense, ensuring America stays on the technological forefront in space, and for keeping important, valuable jobs in North Alabama."

- Sen. Shelby: The King Of Political Cronyism and Hypocrisy, earlier post
- Congress Blinks on RD-180s, earlier post
- DoD Denies RD-180 Waiver For ULA, earlier post
- Rep. Rogers Hates Everything Russian - Except Russian Rocket Engines, earlier post
- Earlier RD-180 posts

FAA Finding of No Significant Impact: SpaceX Falcon Launch Vehicle Landings at Landing Complex-1

"... the FAA is announcing the availability of a FONSI, based on the analysis and findings of the U.S. Air Force's (USAF's) December 2014 Environmental Assessment for the Space Exploration Technologies Vertical Landing of the Falcon Vehicle and Construction at Launch Complex 13 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Florida (EA). Subsequent to the USAF issuing the EA, Launch Complex-13 was renamed to Landing Complex-1 (LC-1)."

Elon Musk's SpaceX returns to flight and pulls off dramatic, historic landing, Washington Post, (Owned by Jeff Bezos)

"On Monday, SpaceX's first flight since its Falcon 9 rocket blew up in June, Musk topped his fellow tech billionaire and space rival [Jeff Bezos], by landing a larger, more powerful rocket designed to send payloads to orbit, and not just past the boundary of what's considered space. It was a much more complicated feat that was celebrated as another leap forward for Musk and his merry band of rocketeers."

SpaceX's Falcon Rocket Finally Sticks the Landing, Wired

"A few weeks ago, Jeff Bezos inaugurated his Twitter account with the surprise announcement that his space company, Blue Origin, had launched and landed a rocket after suborbital flight. But SpaceX managed to deliver 11 satellites to orbit, which requires an order of magnitude more thrust, and land its rocket. SpaceX's booster is coming a hell of lot faster, and its landing much trickier. So Elon Musk's got this one. (For now.)"

SpaceX Lands Falcon 9 First Stage on Earth

"SpaceX made space exploration history tonight when it brought a Falcon 9 first stage back to a safe landing on Earth. Minutes after ending its portion of the launch, the first stage reoriented itself, fired its engines, and came in for a pinpoint landing at Cape Canaveral. Meanwhile the Falcon 9's second stage continued into space eventually deploying its entire 11 satellite ORBCOMM payload successfully."

Marc's note: SpaceX will attempt their return to flight Sunday evening with the launch of ORBCOMM-2 mission from SLC-40, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. This follows the successful static fire test on Friday.

Of note, SpaceX may attempt landing of the Falcon 9 rockets first stage at Space Launch Complex 13.

Update: You can watch the launch live on SpaceRef on the SpaceX channel starting at 8:00 p.m. ET (0100 GMT).

Marc's Update: The launch has been delayed 24 hours as there will be more favourable conditions for a landing attempt tomorrow. The new launch window is between time is 8:29 - 8:34 p.m. ET.


SpaceX landing complex at SLC-13

NASA Orders Second Boeing Crew Mission to International Space

"This is the third in a series of four guaranteed orders NASA will make under the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts. Boeing and SpaceX received their first orders in May and November, respectively, and have started planning for, building and procuring the necessary hardware and assets to carry out their first missions for the agency. NASA will identify at a later time which company will fly a mission to the station first.

Boeing met the criteria for NASA to award the company its second mission with the successful completion of interim developmental milestones and internal design reviews for its Starliner spacecraft, United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket and associated ground system."

Congress Blinks on RD-180s

Spending Bill Lifts RD-180 Ban, Puts ULA Back in Competitive Game, SpaceNews

"A massive U.S. government spending bill, released by lawmakers Dec. 16, effectively lifts a ban on the Russian rocket engine that powers United Launch Alliance's Atlas 5 rocket at least until Oct. 1, re-energizing competition for Defense Department launch contracts between ULA and SpaceX. The new language, included in the omnibus spending bill for 2016, says "that notwithstanding any other provision of law" the Air Force could award a launch contract to any certified company "regardless of the country of origin of the rocket engine that will be used on its launch vehicle, in order to ensure robust competition and continued assured access to space."

- DoD Denies RD-180 Waiver For ULA, earlier post
- Earlier RD-180 posts

NASA OIG Report: NASA's Efforts to Manage its Space Technology Portfolio

"We found deficiencies in NASA's management processes and controls that may limit the usefulness of the Agency's efforts to better manage its space technology investments. First, although NASA has revised its technology roadmaps to provide additional information regarding how specific technologies will help meet Agency mission objectives, it needs to complete the ongoing revision of its Strategic Space Technology Investment Plan to provide the necessary detail to determine the projects that best support Agency priorities. Second, the information in TechPort remains incomplete and inaccurate, impairing the value of the database as a tool to manage and share information about NASA's space technology portfolio. For example, we selected a sample of 49 active projects and found the database contained no information for 16 (33 percent) of the projects."

Keith's note: On 17 November 2015 NASA issued a press release titled "NASA Awards Two Robots to University Groups for R&D Upgrades" regarding NASA JSC's R-5 robot. At the time I asked "Is JSC's R5 Droid Worth Fixing?". I sent NASA PAO a simple request asking "How many applications/proposals were submitted? Which schools submitted proposals?" PAO replied "Thanks for reaching out to us. To answer your question, it's not our practice to share information about the number of proposals we received or which proposals were not selected. The two university groups were chosen through a competitive selection process from groups entered in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Robotics Challenge. The NASA challenge was limited to U.S. university participants in the DARPA Robotics Challenge finals." (see Never Ask NASA a Simple Question)

Gee, all I wanted to know was how many organization submitted proposals and NASA refused to tell me that simple number. What now had me wondering was why NASA was so shy about providing such a simple answer. I did not ask who had applied, simply how many universities had applied. Hmmm ... could it be that only two universities applied? If so, how did it happen that they knew to apply? Did NASA drop hints to potential submitters? Do recall that the R-5 robot has been somewhat of a failure and JSC would just love to pull something successful out of this mess.

R-5 is not the droid you were looking for.

Developed in secrecy by NASA JSC, R-5 competed in the DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials 2013 and tied for dead last. Indeed, the R-5 was not even able to get out of its own way in some portions of the competition. NASA never really explained what this robot was for or why it developed it to have a female shape and form.

After a period of silence, NASA decided in 2015 to haul out their failed R-5 droids out of storage and see if anyone could fix them. Since NASA could not/would not fix them, why not ask if others can help? Not a bad idea. So they asked universities to help them fix the broken robots.

When the two university teams were announced (no doubt highly capable). I wondered how many others had applied and what the interest was in this sort of thing on a national level I was also interested in how hard NASA had worked to actually find the best teams. Mostly I was interested in the number - so I asked PAO. And I got the odd non-response response that PAO provided me.

Not getting an answer I submitted a FOIA request on November 2015. Actually I submitted it twice since the NASA online FOIA submission website was broken that day. Here is the text of my FOIA request:

New Canadian Small Satellite Conference Caters to a Growing Demand

"Because of the growth and demand for small satellites, the Canadian Space Commerce Association decided earlier this year to host its first Canadian SmallSat Symposium this coming February 2nd and 3rd. The symposium is about opportunity, building capability and international partnerships."

Marc's note: I'm organizing this event. We've got some great speakers announced with more to come. We have Greg Wyler opening the symposium, Pete Worden keynoting a lunch and the President of the Canadian Space Agency delivering a plenary to just name a few people. Oh, and of course we'll have some speakers from NASA.

If the small satellite segment is your thing then why not come? There's still a few days to submit an abstract to speak and early registration is underway until December 23rd.

We've also set aside a Business to Business room for those who want to talk business.

SpaceRef/NASA Watch is the media sponsor for the event, though there will be other media present.

Contact me if you want more information: marc.boucher@spacecommerce.ca or visit the symposium website: https://smallsat.ca

Sen. McCain blasts Lockheed Martin-Boeing joint venture for dropping out of launch competition, Washington Post

"In a statement last month, ULA said "it wants nothing more to compete," but was prevented from doing so because of the lack of engines, and because it could not comply with the accounting structures required under the contract. It also said that the Air Force used a procurement process that would give a lot of weight to the prices companies bid and not their experience and past performance, which could have given ULA an edge. But McCain said the assertion that it's a "low-price" contract "is erroneous." Rather the contract is a "best value" source selection that calls for "a careful evaluation of performance, launch operations, schedule and price," he wrote."

Suddenly, SpaceX Is the Only Game in Town, Motley Fool

"Turns out Tory Bruno wasn't just whistling Dixie. At a hearing before the U.S. House Armed Services Committee in March, United Launch Alliance CEO Salvatore "Tory" Bruno issued an ultimatum: Congress must either lift its ban on the purchase of new RD-180 Russian rocket motors for use in America's space program or resign itself to letting one single space provider dictate prices to the government on all future satellite launches. Turns out, it's going to be Door No. 2."

John McCain wants ULA audited, blasts Colorado space company, Denver Business Journal

"McCain, whom President Barack Obama defeated in the 2008 presidential election, also called for a report on whether ULA's decision to use its dwindling supply of Russian-made rocket engines on non-military launches was an attempt to "subvert" the will of Congress."

- ULA Passes on GPS Launch - SpaceX Wins By Default, earlier post
- DoD Denies RD-180 Waiver For ULA, earlier post
- The Four Amigos and The Future of Competition in Space Commerce, earlier post
- LockMart Sort Of Threatens to Kill ULA Over RD-180 Imports, earlier post

Earlier posts

Cygnus Berthed To International Space Station

"The Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo ship was bolted into place on the International Space Station's Earth-facing port of the Unity module at 9:26 a.m. EST. Cygnus is the first cargo ship to be berthed to the Earth-facing port on the Unity module."

International Perspectives on Space Resource Rights, op Ed, Space News

"If the U.S. space resources law were about claiming territory, or an assertion of sovereignty or appropriation of "celestial land," there would be a case for opponents to invoke Article II that prohibits such actions. But it isn't; the U.S. law is simply about confirming and codifying the rights for U.S. private citizens/companies to peacefully explore, extract and own resources extracted, just like the U.S. and Soviet governments did back in the 1960s and 1970s, and just like China, India and other countries intend to do in the coming years through government and private missions."

New Law Unlikely To Settle Debate on Space Resource Rights, Space News

"Even some people within the U.S. government have raised questions about the law. "I'm not sure that the U.S. Congress can pass a law that authorizes American citizens to go do something" like claim rights to space resources, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said at a Dec. 1 meeting of the NASA Advisory Council at the Johnson Space Center, when asked by a council member about the new law."

Keith's note: NASA is trying to un-spin Bolden's comments - but this is not a gaff. He has said this to others before. He does not understand/and or agree with the concepts involved, what Congress supported, and what his boss signed into law.

- Bolden Says ARM Is About Planetary Defense But Not Protecting Earth, earlier post
- Asteroid Retrieval Is Not The Prime Intent of NASA's Asteroid Retrieval Mission, earlier post
- Bolden's Confusing Asteroid Mission Rationale, earlier post
- Earlier posts on Bolden and asteroids

XPRIZE Verifies Moon Express Launch Contract, Kicking Off New Space Race

"Moon Express, Inc. has received official verification today of their launch contract from XPRIZE as part of the $30M Google Lunar XPRIZE, a global competition for privately funded teams to land an unmanned spacecraft on the surface of the moon by December 31, 2017. Moon Express will use a Rocket Lab Electron rocket combined with the company's "MX-1E" micro-lander as part of a 2017 mission."

Previous

Google Lunar X Prize to Verify Moon Express Launch Contract (October 2, 2015)

Here's what Chanda Gonzales, Senior Director, Google Lunar XPRIZE said on the contract issue "Our decision is based on a holistic assessment of whether the launch contract is genuine, whether there are any legal issues that might pop up, whether there are any obvious non-compliances with the rules, and whether a substantial commitment was made by both the team and the launch provider (e.g. non-refundable deposit of some certain minimum value)."

Israeli Google Lunar XPrize Team is First to Sign Launch Agreement for Private Mission to the Moon on SpaceX Falcon 9 (October 7, 2015)

"At a press conference held in Jerusalem today, alongside Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, and Bob Weiss, vice chairman and president of XPRIZE, SpaceIL announced a significant milestone in its race to the moon: securing a "ticket to the moon" on a SpaceX Falcon 9 launcher, with a mission scheduled for the second half of 2017. With this, SpaceIL becomes the first team to produce a verified launch contract in the US$30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE competition, and aims to accomplish not only the first Israeli mission to the moon, but also the world's first private lunar mission."

Marc's note: So Moon Express announced their contract first but SpaceIL had theirs verified first. Each will claim they were first for history, but the only thing that matters at this point is that one or both and possibly more actually launch, make it to the moon, do something and build their business case.

ULA Successfully Launches OA-4 Cygnus to International Space Station

"A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the OA-4 Cygnus resupply spacecraft to the International Space Station lifted off from Space Launch Complex-41 Dec. 6 at 4:44 p.m. EST. The mission, flown for Orbital ATK under NASA's Commercial Resupply Services contract, marks the first time the Cygnus has flown on an Atlas V rocket. This was ULA's 12th launch in 2015. At just over 8 tons, Cygnus is the heaviest payload to launch atop an Atlas V rocket."

Cygnus Launch Seen From Orbit, NASA

@StationCDRKelly Day 254. We got our candle lit. #HappyHanukkah and #GoodNight from @Space_Station!

Virgin Galactic Announces 747 Carrier for LauncherOne Orbital Vehicle (with video)

"Virgin Galactic has introduced a 747 to its fleet of vehicles as part of a technical update on its LauncherOne small satellite launch service. The 747-400 commercial jet aircraft, previously operated by Virgin Atlantic under the nickname 'Cosmic Girl,' will provide a dedicated launch platform for the LauncherOne orbital vehicle."

NASA's Bad Engine Habits

As NASA discards reusable engines, Blue Origin and SpaceX push new frontiers, Ars Techinca

"On the Monday before Thanksgiving NASA made what it deemed a momentous announcement: the space agency had awarded $1.16 billion to Aerojet Rocketdyne for rocket engines that would power its "Journey to Mars." By contrast, a few hours earlier, the private space company Blue Origin secretly launched a rocket into space and safely landed it. The contrast between the deal struck in corridors of Washington D.C. and what had happened in the desert of West Texas could not have been more stark."

How the new SLS engine contract is a step in the wrong direction, Space Review

"Blue Origin is not the only company in hot pursuit of reusable rockets. SpaceX has come close to succeeding in two attempts to land the first stage of the Falcon 9 orbital launch vehicle on an ocean platform. In the near future, SpaceX will also attempt to touch down the first stage of the Falcon 9 on land close to the launch site. Sooner or later, SpaceX will succeed and will be nailing these landings, just like Blue Origin did. Other companies and countries are working on reusable rockets and spacecraft as well. Those working on reusable suborbital vehicles include Virgin Galactic with their SpaceShipTwo, XCOR Aerospace with their Lynx rocketplane, and Masten Space Systems with their vertical takeoff and landing rockets."

Keith's note: This is not the first time in recent memory that NASA has made decisions to revisit old technology as part of bad habits it just can't shake. The agency spent over a billion dollars on J-2X and then changed its mind. Meanwhile everyone outside of NASA who is spending their own money on rocketships is striving toward reusability for economic reasons. But NASA doesn't do economical things in-house, now does it?

Video: UP Aerospace SL-10 NASA Flight Opportunities Mission

"On November 6, 2015 UP Aerospace successfully executed a mission for NASA to deploy the Maraia Earth Return Capsule. The mission reached an altitude of 75 miles above Spaceport America and landed 30 miles down range on White Sands Missile Range. The missions was UP Aerospace's 10th SpaceLoft rocket launch and the first deployment mission."


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This page is an archive of entries in the Commercialization category from December 2015.

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